Why I joined the Evil Empire
Well, I’ve now been at Microsoft for exactly 4 months, and it seems like a good time to explain why I joined the company. After close to 6 years at Ford Motor Company, I was approached by The Evil Empire and asked to become an "Evangelist" for the business value Microsoft’s emerging technologies and solutions can bring to largest manufacturers in the United States — which happens to include a lot of automotive companies.
People are often surprised to hear that the choice was a hard one… after all, Ford is struggling and facing layoffs… why wouldn’t I want to go to a financially successful, growing company based near my home town of Seattle (well, Tacoma actually. Ok Lakewood.)? The answer is that I was in a great, exciting job and really felt that I was contributing to the turn-around, the company and people I worked with were wonderful, I felt a lot of loyalty to the company, and wanted to be part of saving an American icon. I was leading the development and implemetation of an IT Services strategy to support Ford’s fastest growing, most dynamic market (China – where YTD sales for the first 9 months of 2006 went up 105%). The job was fun, interesting, challenging, and for me was a perfect blend of strategy, IT, and international business.
So with all those reasons to stay, why did I make the jump? First off, we’ve always planned to return to the Pacific Northwest some day. So despite all the great things about staying at Ford, I realized that leaving Ford was a matter of "when", not "if". It was a matter of finding the right time and right opportunity. And while this job is still in Michigan, being on the inside at Microsoft should help significantly when it comes time to pull the trigger on a move back to Seattle.
Second, as exciting as the travel was, I had just returned from 3 weeks in China where I was worked until 10pm most nights, often later, and through each weekend. We accomplished a lot, but it was a grueling pace and I could expect that to continue every other month until the assignment was finished. That kind of travel schedule takes a toll on the family life. Even though MS has a reputation for long hours and role would require travel, it was clear to me that my schedule would be easier and the hours would probably be better.
Third, the position Microsoft was courting me for ("Platform Strategy Advisor") is really quite a good one. The organization within MS is called "Developer and Platform Evangelism." While I think the "evangelism" tag reinforces the perception of Microsoft "arrogance" in a way that is generally not helpful, I very much do like the idea of advising large enterprises on IT strategy. What’s unique about this role, is that I don’t have a sales quota and I have the luxury of working on long-cycle intitiatives that can span multiple years — which is sometimes what it takes to significantly change a company or an industry.
There are of course certain activities I need to do (presentation on business value, strategy, etc.), but those are just an artifice to get me in front of the business and technical decision makers at my client companies so that I can become a trusted advisor to them. The quiet, unofficial metric that tells me I’m doing my job well is how many times clients call me to get advice on understanding and solving their challenges – be they clearly IT related or not. I like to help people, and this job is basically about helping people — part consultant, but without any billing requirements — and part sales, but without any sales quota. In other words, I represent a long-term investment that Microsoft is making in their favorite customers to help them use emerging technologies to achieve results that truly matter to them, and also to get the most out of their existing technology investments.
But why MS? Well, the bottom line is that Microsoft’s value proposition has always been rooted in making computing easy enough that organizations can achieve results themselves without requiring an army of highly trained, expensive consultants. Certainly consultants have a role, but too often they represent a path to incompetency because customers become addicted to them in self-reinforcing spiral that impedes learning inside organizations.
Microsoft’s fundamental value is exactly the opposite — the company provides technologies designed to help people achieve their full potential — more than just an advertising line, the companies products, services, and people are organized around this notion. It’s authentic. The focus is on giving clients capabilities and helping them raise their own competencies. This has the positive effect of re-inforcing learning in an organization, creating more adaptable enterprises, and enabling innovation and organic growth. Basically, it’s noble work. I know it sounds corny, but I really file like I can help change the world.